Labor Left

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Labor Left
National convenorsPat Conroy and
Andrew Giles[1]
Student wingNational Labor Students
Youth wingYoung Labor Left
IdeologySocial democracy
Political positionCentre-left to left-wing[2]
National affiliationAustralian Labor Party
Colours  Red
House of Representatives
25 / 151
10 / 76
Federal Caucus
35 / 94

The Labor Left, also known as the Socialist Left and Progressive Left, is an organised Left faction of the Australian Labor Party. It competes with the more economically liberal Labor Right faction.

The Labor Left operates autonomously in each State and Territory of Australia, and organises as a broad alliance at the national level. Its policy positions include party democratisation, economic interventionism, progressive tax reform, refugee rights, gender equality and gay marriage.[3] The faction includes members with a range of political perspectives, including Keynesianism, trade union militancy, Fabian social democracy, New Leftism and democratic socialism.[4]

Factional activity[edit]

Most political parties contain informal factions of members who work towards common goals. However the Australian Labor Party is noted for having highly structured and organised factions across the ideological spectrum.[5]

Labor Left is a membership-based organisation which has internal office bearers, publications, and policy positions.[5] The faction coordinates political activity and policy development across different hierarchical levels and organisational components of the party,[6] negotiates with other factions on political strategy and policy, and uses party processes to try to defeat other groups if consensus cannot be reached.[7]

Many members of parliament and trade union leaders are formally aligned with the Left and Right factions, and party positions and ministerial allocations are negotiated and divided between the factions based on the proportion of Labor caucus aligned with that faction.[5][7]


Labor left factions before the 1950s[edit]

Historian Frank Bongiorno has noted that there had been a number of organisations associated with the left wing of Labor before the 1950s, from the Australian Socialist League in the 1890s, the industrial left which emerged during World War I, the early supporters of Jack Lang, and the State Labor Party of the 1940s.[4]

Labor Party split of 1955[edit]

The modern Labor Left emerged from the Labor Party split of 1955, in which anti-Communist activists associated with B. A. Santamaria and the Industrial Groups formed the Democratic Labor Party while left-wing parliamentarians and unions loyal to H. V. Evatt and Arthur Calwell remained in the Australian Labor Party.[8] The earliest formal factional organization was the NSW Combined Unions and Branches Steering Committee (later known as the NSW Socialist Left), which was formed in January 1955.[4]

The split played out differently across the country, with anti-Communists leaving the party in Victoria and Queensland but remaining within in most other states. This created a power vacuum which allowed the Left to take control of the Federal Executive and Victorian state branch, while its opponents were preserved elsewhere.[8] Tom Uren described the left of the Labor Party Caucus upon his election to Parliament in the late 1950s as "a loosely knit grouping... consist(ing) mostly of anti-Catholics, although some members were militants or socialists".[4]

From 1965 organised internal groups emerged to challenge the control of the Left, supported by figures such as John Button and Gough Whitlam. After the Victorian branch lost the 1970 state election in the midst of a public dispute with Whitlam over state aid for private schools, the South Australian Left, led by Clyde Cameron, and New South Wales Left, led by Arthur Gietzelt, agreed to support an intervention which saw the Victorian state branch abolished and subsequently reconstructed without Left control.[8] Leftists in the Victorian party subsequently regrouped as the formally organized Socialist Left faction. In Queensland, the left coalesced around senator George Georges. Despite an increasing level of organisation in the grassroots party, this was not reflected within the Parliamentary caucus: Ken Fry noted that when he was elected to Parliament in 1974, meetings of left MPs were irregular and they responded to events in an ad hoc manner. The Labor Left suffered the loss of two of its key leaders in the mid-1970s with the downfall of Jim Cairns and the elevation of Lionel Murphy to the High Court of Australia, yet it continued to make advances in terms of nationwide organisation: right-wing power broker Graham Richardson has acknowledged that "at the beginning of the 1980s the Left was the only national faction".[4]

Labor Left split in the 1980s[edit]

Labor leftists continued to formalise their organisation into the 1980s. In New South Wales, the Steering Committee (which later became known as the Socialist Left in 1989) made advances in branches across the state in the late 1970s and early 1980s under the leadership of Peter Baldwin, initially in the suburbs of Sydney before spreading to the inner cities. This culminated in the deselection of the right-aligned MP for Sydney, Les McMahon, and the selection of Baldwin as Labor candidate for the seat. This was followed by other Labor Right MPs in Sydney's Inner West similarly being usurped by left candidates.[9]

In Tasmania, the Broad Left formalised itself in 1983, having taken control of the state party after reforms democratised it in 1976.[4][10] In the Australian Capital Territory, the Left Caucus was founded after a left candidate was not preselected in 1982. However, the Left were unable to translate their organisational advances into a presence in the Hawke Government: although about a third of the Parliamentary caucus were aligned with the Left at the time, only one member was appointed to Hawke's first cabinet, Stewart West: leading left-winger Brian Howe placed high in the ministry ballot, but was relegated to a junior ministerial position. This came against the background of an increasing factionalising across the party and the emergence of a centre-left faction which joined with the Labor Right to dominate the Hawke government. Left influence was also restricted by the ALP's binding pledge committing legislators to accept caucus discipline, allowing members little freedom to dissent. Left influence also declined at the national conference, with the faction losing its conference majority in the early 1980s.[4]

During the 1980s, prolonged disputes over tactical issues and personality conflicts resulted in a split occurring within the New South Wales Labor Left, creating two sub-factional groupings; the 'Hard Left' and the 'Soft Left',[11] the latter of which was the successor of the Baldwinites.[9] A significant event which caused the split was the election of the Secretary Assistant of the New South Wales Labor Party, where the Hard Left faction supported Anthony Albanese while the Soft Left faction supported Jan Burnswoods.[11] The Hard Left faction was more closely aligned with left-wing groups external to the Labor Party, maintaining "closer links with broader left-wing groups, such as the Communist Party of Australia, People for Nuclear Disarmament and the African National Congress" as well as trade union officials, political staffers, lobbyists and student politicians, while the Soft Left's main base of support was among rank-and-file party branch members.[11][9] In terms of tactics, the Hard Left favoured a top-down approach of transactional negotiation with the Labor Right, whilst the Soft Left advocated a continuation of the Baldwinite bottom-up strategy of mobilising the grassroots membership to win party positions. This difference in approach led to struggles between the two factions over candidate selections, with the Hard Left using their control over the party apparatus in tandem with sections of the Right to deselect Soft Left MPs across the state, particularly in western Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong. For example, in Newcastle Bryce Gaudry was deselected in favour of the Right's Jodi McKay, following which about 130 members resigned or were expelled from the city's ALP branches, previously the largest in the state.[9] The factions also had differing views on policy. While members of both the Soft and Hard Left opposed the Hawke/Keating government's privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank and Qantas, the Hard Left was seen as being more staunchly resistant to these changes.[11]

Lindsay Tanner, writing in the early 1990s, argued that the principal "axis of division" with the ALP cut across the traditional left-right divide, namely the opposition of "rationalists" and "traditionalists", with the former supporting the Prices and Incomes Accord and union mergers, and abandoning or watering down their commitment to tradition Labor objectives such as public ownership, non-interventionism in foreign policy, and maintenance of working-class living standards, whilst the latter were negative towards the Accord, opposed to union mergers, sympathetic toward economic autarky, and attached to traditional Labor policy objectives.[12] This divide can be seen through the career of Joan Kirner, who served as Premier of Victoria between 1990 and 1992 and was the first member of the modern Labor Left to lead a government, who supported the ascent of Paul Keating to the post of Prime Minister and his decision to privatise Commonwealth Bank to finance a bailout for the ailing State Bank of Victoria. This resulted in the formation of a splinter group from the Socialist Left, the Pledge faction, which opposed privatisation: in 1996 Pledge allied with another left split, the Labour Renewal Alliance, and the right wing Labor Unity faction to take control of the party away from the Socialist Left.[13][4]

Labor Left factions from all jurisdictions[edit]

Jurisdiction Major Left Grouping Conference Floor Percentage 2015 Majority
New South Wales NSW Left 40%[14] No
Victoria Victorian Socialist Left 42%[14] Stability Pact with Centre Unity and NUW
Western Australia Broad Left 65%[14] Yes
Queensland The Left 49%[15] Yes
ACT Left Caucus 51%[14] Yes
South Australia Progressive Left Unions and Sub-Branches (PLUS) 35%[14] No
Tasmania The Left 70%[14] Yes
Northern Territory The Left 60%[14] Yes
National National Left 48%[14] No

Federal Members of the Labor Left[edit]

Name Parliamentary seat Other positions State/Territory
Anthony Albanese[16] Member for Grayndler Leader of the Opposition NSW
Tanya Plibersek[16] Member for Sydney Shadow Minister for Education and Training NSW
Stephen Jones[17] Member for Whitlam Shadow Assistant Treasurer; Shadow Minister for Financial Services NSW
Jenny McAllister Senator for New South Wales NSW
Julie Owens Member for Parramatta NSW
Sharon Claydon Member for Newcastle NSW
Susan Templeman Member for Macquarie NSW
Pat Conroy[18] Member for Shortland Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific; Shadow Minister Assisting for Climate Change; Shadow Minister Assisting for Defence NSW
Anne Stanley Member for Werriwa NSW
Linda Burney Member for Barton Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services; Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians NSW
Catherine King[19] Member for Ballarat Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, and Regional Development Victoria
Brendan O'Connor[19] Member for Gorton Shadow Minister for Employment and Industry; Shadow Minister for Science; Shadow Minister for Small and Family Business Victoria
Andrew Giles[18] Member for Scullin Shadow Minister for Cities and Urban Infrastructure; Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs; Shadow Minister Assisting for Immigration and Citizenship Victoria
Julian Hill Member for Bruce Victoria
Kim Carr[20] Senator for Victoria Victoria
Maria Vamvakinou Member for Calwell Victoria
Lisa Chesters Member for Bendigo Victoria
Libby Coker[21] Member for Corangamite Victoria
Ged Kearney[22] Member for Cooper Victoria
Terri Butler[23] Member for Griffith Shadow Minister for the Environment and Water Queensland
Graham Perrett Member for Moreton Queensland
Murray Watt Senator for Queensland Shadow Minister for Northern Australia; Shadow Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management Queensland
Sue Lines Senator for Western Australia Deputy Senate President WA
Louise Pratt Senator for Western Australia Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing WA
Josh Wilson Member for Fremantle Shadow Assistant Minister for the Environment WA
Patrick Gorman Member for Perth WA
Anne Aly Member for Cowan WA
Mark Butler[19] Member for Hindmarsh Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy; Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives SA
Tony Zappia Member for Makin SA
Penny Wong[16] Senator for South Australia Leader of the Opposition in the Senate; Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs SA
Julie Collins[24] Member for Franklin Shadow Minister for Ageing and Seniors; Shadow Minister for Women Tasmania
Carol Brown[24] Senator for Tasmania Tasmania
Anne Urquhart[24] Senator for Tasmania Tasmania
Brian Mitchell[24] Member for Lyons Tasmania
Katy Gallagher Senator for the Australian Capital Territory Shadow Minister for Finance; Shadow Minister for the Public Service; Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate ACT
Warren Snowdon Member for Lingiari NT
Malarndirri McCarthy Senator for the Northern Territory NT

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Crowe, David. "New trade tensions inside Labor as Left faction pushes for greater labour restrictions". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 30 May 2019.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Labor faction chiefs lose control, leaving way open for left-wing issues such as gay marriage". The Sydney Morning Herald. 17 June 2015. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Chiu, Osmond (27 July 2020). "Locking Out the Left: The Emergence of National Factions in Australian Labor". Jacobin (magazine). Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  5. ^ a b c Leigh, Andrew (9 June 2010). "Factions and Fractions: A Case Study of Power Politics in the Australian Labor Party". Australian Journal of Political Science. 35 (3): 427–448. doi:10.1080/713649348.
  6. ^ Parkin, Andrew (1983). Machine Politics in the Australian Labor Party. George Allen and Unwin. p. 23.
  7. ^ a b Faulkner, Xandra Madeleine (2006). The Spirit of Accommodation: The Influence of the ALP's National Factions on Party Policy, 1996-2004 (Thesis). Griffith University. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  8. ^ a b c Oakley, Corey (Winter 2012). "The rise and fall of the ALP left in Victoria and NSW". Marxist Left Review. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  9. ^ a b c d Daniel, Nicholas (13 November 2020). "Labor's Anthony Albanese Is Not a Friend of Australia's Left — And He Never Was". Jacobin (magazine). Retrieved 17 November 2020.
  10. ^ Davis, Richard (2005). "Labor Party". In Alexander, Alison (ed.). The Companion to Tasmanian History. University of Tasmania. ISBN 1-86295-223-X. Retrieved 31 July 2020.
  11. ^ a b c d Leigh, Andrew. "Factions and Fractions: A Case Study of Power Politics in the Australian Labor Party" (PDF). Australian Journal of Political Science. 35 (3): 427–448.
  12. ^ Tanner, Lindsay (June 1991). "Labourism's Last Days". Australian Left Review. No. 129. pp. 10–14. Retrieved 31 July 2020.
  13. ^ Robinson, Geoffrey (2 June 2015). "Joan Kirner, a pioneering leader for the Left as well as women". The Conversation (website). Retrieved 31 July 2020.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h "agitate, educate, opine" (2 September 2014). "What is the factional breakdown at Labor Conferences?". Retrieved 22 January 2016.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b c Matthewson, Paula. "It can be tricky knowing left from right in the ALP". The New Daily. Retrieved 14 March 2020.
  17. ^ Koziol, Michael. "Labor Left rallies behind Albanese as Plibersek pulls out of leadership race". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 March 2020.
  18. ^ a b Crowe, David. "New trade tensions inside Labor as Left faction pushes for greater labour restrictions". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 March 2020.
  19. ^ a b c "The 12 Labor figures who will do the heavy lifting in government". Australian Financial Review. Retrieved 14 March 2020.
  20. ^ Schneiders, Ben. "Big union merger vows to tackle wage theft, redistribute wealth, shift Labor left". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 March 2020.
  21. ^
  22. ^ Middleton, Karen. "Albanese juggles Labor frictions". The Saturday Paper. Retrieved 14 March 2020.
  23. ^ Blaine, Lech. "Terri Butler's rise through the rancour". The Monthly. Retrieved 14 March 2020.
  24. ^ a b c d Langenberg, Adam. "Two Tasmanians on Left shadow cabinet ticket". The Advocate. Retrieved 14 March 2020.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]